A rubber dinghy packed with 91 migrants that set out from Libyan shores in hopes of reaching Europe has apparently gone missing in the Mediterranean.
According to reports,the inflatable boat carrying mostly African migrants departed from al-Qarbouli, 50 kilometers east of the capital Tripoli on Feb. 8, said Osman Haroun, whose cousin was on board. He hasn’t heard from the 27-year-old Mohamed Idris, or his 10 other friends also on the boat, since.
“It’s the first time I’ve heard of this happening,” Haroun told The Associated Press by phone from the western coastal district of Zawiya, where he has lived with his family since fleeing the conflict-ridden Darfur region of Sudan in 2016.
“Those who set out you usually hear from within a few hours … no one has even seen the boat’s remains.”
Alarm Phone, a crisis hotline for migrants in need of rescue at sea, drew attention Thursday to what it called “an invisible shipwreck,” urging Libyan, Maltese and Italian authorities to share information about the day’s rescue missions.
It said a black rubber boat with 91 people on board, reportedly hailing from Sudan, Niger, Iran and Mali, called the hotline in distress at 3:30 a.m. Feb. 9. The passengers managed to share their GPS coordinates minutes later, which put them in international waters north of Libya.
Alarm Phone passed the SOS to Italian and Maltese authorities and to the Libyan coast guard, which took five hours to respond to the urgent request, and said it dispatched two ships to search for the missing vessel, without providing evidence.
Alarm Phone lost contact with the boat over two hours later, when it heard people panicking, saying the engine had failed. Migrants were slipping into the sea, they told the hotline, as water flooded the shrinking dinghy.
“For sure something bad has happened,”
The International Organization for Migration cross-checked search and rescue records from Italy, Malta, Libya and the non-governmental Aita Mari rescue ship, but could not match the missing migrant boat with any recent interceptions or rescues.
Frontex, the EU border agency, said it deployed a plane to search for the missing boat.
The IOM tally of “ghost boats” lost in the Mediterranean Sea has been rising. Last year, the agency documented seven disappeared vessels carrying 417 people, a four-fold increase from the year before.